Summer House: Ch. 15


I know where the birds’ nests are. Bernard and I headed out in the early morning, wearing our boots and rain hats, while the sun shone through fog and clouds. A hermit thrush sang, and we followed it through the stand of aspens.

“How do you find the nests?” Bernard asked in a whisper.

“Listening,” I replied, “and watching. Some return every year to the same spot. I’ve had lots of summers here to discover secrets.”

We followed the deer trail through the aspens to the bluff, and we sat beneath a granite outcropping. I pointed towards a scraggly cedar arching its branches over the bay. Near the end of the largest branch sat a pile of twigs: an osprey’s nest.


Within minutes, the osprey soared over the bay, hovered, and dove to catch a salmon. It carried the salmon in its talons up to the nest where two white chicks stretched out their long necks, opening their hooked yellow beaks.

When the osprey flew off, Bernard looked at me, his eyes wide. “Wow.”

He slipped in his hand in mine as we continued along the trail.

A winter wren darted into a thimble-berry bush. We heard its chicks and kept looking until we found a globe nest woven of lichen and Spanish moss.

Up in the pale green leaves of an alder sat a vireo’s cupped nest.

Cliff swallows darted out from the banks of the creek. We slid down an otter’s path to walk along the shore, so we could glance up to find the swallows’ mud-daub nests.

“How do birds know how to build?” Bernard asked.

“They learn,” I said, “like you learn how to write.”

“Does everything learn?” he asked. “I think everything learns. Everything learns to do what everything does.”

A frog jumped out from the cattails and landed into the pond with a splash.

“Oh, I bet there are pollywogs,” I said.

“I have never seen pollywogs,” he said. “I don’t think.”

We ventured to the edge of the pond.

“Look! There they are!” Tiny black dots with tails wriggled over the stones on the pond floor.

“I don’t see them,” said Bernard. We kept looking.

“What do you see?” I asked.

“I see the sky. I see leaves. I see that water skeeter. I see the shapes of branches.”

“You’re looking at the reflections,” I said. “At the surface. You need to look through that. Look beyond.”

He became still with concentration. I shifted my own glance from surface to the mid-level to the floor of the pond.

“Look for the stones at the bottom,” I said. “There’s a yellow stone with a black stripe. See if you can find it.”

He looked. “I see it!”

“Now keep watching. See what swims over it.”

A large brown bullfrog tadpole sucked the surface of the rock, slowly wagging its tail back and forth.

“I see it!” Bernard shouted.

We watched as water striders circled, diving beetles rose, and the tiny black pollywogs circled over the stones and mud.

“It’s like a magic world,” Bernard whispered.

“Can you see both the surface and the depths at the same time?” I asked.

“No. Wait.” We sat silently. “Yes!”

I heard a chewing sound and raised my gaze to see a cat-tail stalk fall into the water. I nudged Bernard and gestured with my chin, raising my finger to my lips so we wouldn’t say a word.

A muskrat emerged from the thicket of cat-tails to grab the fallen stalk between his teeth. He swam like a beaver, carrying his harvest, to the opposite bank, then, backwards, pulling the cat-tail stalk behind him, crawled out where he disappeared again into a low tunnel in the sedges.

“I never knew there were so many secrets,” Bernard whispered.

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